Did Wikileaks reveal a US blueprint for Libya?

By Ali Abunimah

August 26, 2011 -- Electronic Intifada -- The US administrations of presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were set on developing deep “military to military” ties with the Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi, classified US diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks on August 24 reveal. The United States was keen to integrate Libya as much as possible into “AFRICOM”, the US military command for Africa which seeks to establish bases and station military forces permanently on the continent.

“We never would have guessed ten years ago that we would be sitting in Tripoli, being welcomed by a son of Muammar al-Qadhafi”, US Senator Joseph Lieberman said during an August 2009 meeting, which also included senators John McCain and Susan Collins.

The records confirm that McCain, the Republican presidential candidate in 2008, strongly supported US arms sales to Libya and personally pledged to Muammar Gaddafi (also spelled “al-Qadhafi”) and his son Muatassim that he would push to get such transfers approved by Congress. McCain also revealed that the United States was training officers in Gaddafi’s army.

While the Americans pursued the relationship vigorously, they met with a cautious and sometimes “mercurial” response from the Libyans. In particular, the mistrustful Libyans wanted security guarantees that the Americans appeared reluctant to give.

“We can get [equipment] from Russia or China”, Muatassim told the visiting senators, “but we want to get it from you as a symbol of faith from the United States”.

In hindsight, given the US support for the NATO war against the Gaddafi regime, it is not difficult to understand why the Libyans wanted these guarantees.

Nevertheless, Gaddafi received high praise for his “counterterrorism” credentials from US officials.

The documents also reveal that the United States was keen to court Gaddafi’s sons, flying them to the United States for high level visits.

And, notably, none of the cables regarding high level meetings quoted in this post made any mention of uS concerns about “human rights” in Libya. The issue never appeared on the bilateral agenda.

Does the removal of the Gaddafi regime now clear the way for the United States to pursue the plans for integrating Libya into AFRICOM under what the Americans must hope will be a pliable regime?

'Increased defence cooperation'

In January 2008, US Assistant Secretary of State David Welch met with Libyan Foreign Minister Abdulrahman Shalgam. The classified memo recording the meeting notes:

Welch underscored the importance of increased defense cooperation as a signal of normalcy in the bilateral military relationship, particularly when considering Libya’s relatively recent rescission from the state sponsors of terrorism in June 2006. A/S Welch added that the Libyan government should invite AFRICOM Commander General Ward to Libya to discuss AFRICOM in greater detail.

The Libyans responded positively but somewhat warily:

Shalgam voiced the Libyan government’s interest in discussing AFRICOM and welcomed General Ward’s visit. However, he cautioned, the old guard within the MOD [Ministry of Defense] does not favor closer ties with the USG [US government] (reftel). In particular, General Abubaker Younes, the second in command, is firmly against cooperation and will refuse to meet any American official as he views U.S. coalition forces in Iraq as an occupation force. Nonetheless, Shalgam explained that it is important for Ward to visit and dispel misinformation and mistrust of AFRICOM among the Libyan leadership. He reasserted Libya’s continued, strong objection to U.S. military forces in Africa.

Shalgam also raised the issue of six C-130 military transport planes that Libya had purchased from the United States in the early 1970s, but which were never delivered due to US sanctions that were imposed later on.

After President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, it appears General William Ward, the commander of AFRICOM did get his invitation to visit Libya the following March. Before his visit, Ward received a classified briefing document from the US Embassy in Tripoli setting out US priorities and goals in Libya as well as providing insights into the regime.

The US document notes that after Libya settled various claims to do with terrorism cases including the Pan Am 103 Lockerbie bombing, it:

allowed us to move forward on the Mil-Mil MOU [Military to Military Memorandum of Understanding], which was signed in Washington in January. It also increased the number of high-level visits between the two countries including Saif al-Islam al-Qadhafi’s two-week trip to the US in November and his brother Muatassim al-Qadhafi’s trip to Washington planned for April.

The memo again notes the mistrust on the Libyan side:

Despite the high-level interest in deepening the relationship, several old-guard regime figures remain skeptical about the re-engagement project and some facets of our interaction remain at the mercy of the often mercurial inner circle.

This was a reference to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, whom the Americans note, often appeared cooler than his sons.

Seducing Libya on AFRICOM

Ward’s brief, according to the classified cable, was to help overcome Libyan suspicion of US military expansion into Africa. The document advises the general:

Since the former Secretary of State’s visit to Tripoli in September, regime officials have slowly come to terms with AFRICOM as we have explained more of your mission. A clear explanation of AFRICOM’s mandate and expected activities on the continent, as well as a two-way discussion on areas of military-to-military cooperation will be welcomed by your interlocutors.

Reiterating AFRICOM’s support and humanitarian roles while allaying their fears about American troops or bases on the continent is another message they will be keen to receive. While Libya is a strong partner on counterterrorism, the Libyans remain wary of initiatives that put foreign military or intelligence assets too close to their borders. They are unlikely to join the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership, due as much to unwillingness to appear subservient to US interests as genuine distrust of U.S. intentions from certain old-guard regime elements. Negotiations on the Mil-Mil MOU [Military to Military Memorandum of Understanding] stalled on Libyan insistence that the language include security assurances on par with our NATO obligations. AFRICOM’s capacity-building component and support for peacekeeping forces may appease some, but we expect your military interlocutors will use your visit as an opportunity to tie their cooperation to security assurances.

Gaddafi is a 'Top partner'

The Ward memo states:

Libya is a top partner in combating transnational terrorism. The regime is genuinely concerned about the rise of Islamic terrorism in the Sahel and Sahara and worries that instability and weak governments to their south could lead to a “belt of terrorism” stretching from Mauritania to SOMALIA. Al-Qadhafi prides himself on his recent initiatives with Tuareg tribes to persuade them to lay down arms and spurn cooperation with al-Qaeda elements in the border region; this is an issue worth exploring with him, while being mindful that he will oppose U.S. military activity in what he views as his backyard.

US arms sales to Libya

Throughout bilateral discussions, the Ward briefing memo notes, “Libyan officials have been keen to purchase US military equipment - both lethal and non-lethal.” It adds:

Libyan officials presented “wish lists” in the context of signing the Mil-Mil MOU. Muatassim [Gaddafi] accompanied his father on a high-profile trip to Moscow in October to discuss potential deals, but his father’s trips to Belarus and Ukraine were seen as an attempt to bring the price-point down for weapons deals. Their wish-lists comprise both lethal and non-lethal materiel and we have told the GOL that sales will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, particularly since not all senior USG leaders who would have a say on the subject have been appointed by the new administration.

The Americans were clearly open to selling weapons to Gaddafi, but were noncommital, as Ward was advised:

In effect, the Libyans have made military sales a key litmus of US trust and future intentions. In response, you might say that the U.S. looks forward to developing the bilateral security relationship and this process will take time; the C130s are a commercial matter best pursued with Lockheed-Martin.

The memo to General Ward concludes:

We are confident that your visit to Tripoli will open new doors for continued cooperation. Military cooperation is a key metric to determine the extent to which the Libyan government wishes to engage with the US. We hope your visit will assuage the fears of the more conservative elements of the regime while paving the way for AFRICOM’s continued success.

Senator McCain pushes for weapons sales

During his August 2009 visit to Tripoli, according to the classified record of the meeting, Senator John McCain was frank about his support for Libya’s weapons requests in a meeting with Muammar and Muatassim Gaddafi:

Senator MCCAIN assured Muatassim that the United States wanted to provide Libya with the equipment it needs for its security. He stated that he understood LIBYA’s requests regarding the rehabilitation of its eight C-130s (ref D) and pledged to see what he could do to move things forward in Congress. He encouraged Muatassim to keep in mind the long-term perspective of bilateral security engagement and to remember that small obstacles will emerge from time to time that can be overcome. He described the bilateral military relationship as strong and pointed to Libyan officer training at U.S. Command, Staff, and War colleges as some of the best programs for Libyan military participation.

A blueprint for post-Gaddafi Libya?

Nothing in the leaked documents reviewed here suggests that the NATO-backed removal of the Gaddafi regime was premeditated. On the contrary, the documents show that the United States was more enthusiastic about working with Gaddafi than perhaps Gaddafi was with the Americans – though clearly both stood to gain.

The US sought to expand its military presence in Africa and Gaddafi wanted to secure his regime against external threats.

At no point were human rights concerns ever an obstacle tous  engagement for either the George W. Bush or Obama administrations.

The documents support the view that the decision to go to war against Gaddafi – in the name of “protecting civilians” was more opportunistic – riding on the back of the “Arab Spring”.

It is likely that after the toppling of the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents by popular uprisings in January and February respectively, top US and NATO decisionmakers believed that once protests started against it, the Gaddafi regime would be too unstable and unreliable to deal with.

Yet, the regime also fought back against the uprising in Libya with a ferocity that exceeded even the violence of the Tunisian and Egyptian regimes. It appears likely that US and allied leaders calculated that with a little push from their bombs, the balance could quickly be tipped in favour of the rebellion.

This mindset is clear from the claim in February – a month before the NATO intervention began – by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague, that Gaddafi had already fled to Venezuela. It was also clear from statements by US military and political leaders, once the bombing began, that the US military role would only last for days.

As it turned out, the war has so far lasted five months, and is not over. The full-extent of atrocities by NATO-backed rebels and Gaddafi loyalists are only now starting to come to light.

But just as the Americans were happy to work with Gaddafi, they will be as keen to work with his successors, who now owe their positions to foreign intervention.

The US must hope that the National Transitional Council (NTC) which the US has recognised as the new government will be less mercurial and even more open to “military to military,” and other kinds of ties.



NY Times September 2, 2011
Files Note Close C.I.A. Ties to Qaddafi Spy Unit

TRIPOLI, Libya — Documents found at the abandoned office of Libya’s former spymaster appear to provide new details of the close relations the Central Intelligence Agency shared with the Libyan intelligence service — most notably suggesting that the Americans sent terrorism suspects at least eight times for questioning in Libya despite that country’s reputation for torture.

Although it has been known that Western intelligence services began cooperating with Libya after it abandoned its program to build unconventional weapons in 2004, the files left behind as Tripoli fell to rebels show that the cooperation was much more extensive than generally known with both the C.I.A. and its British equivalent, MI-6.

Some documents indicate that the British agency was even willing to trace phone numbers for the Libyans, and another appears to be a proposed speech written by the Americans for Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi about renouncing unconventional weapons.

The documents were discovered Friday by journalists and Human Rights Watch. There were at least three binders of English-language documents, one marked C.I.A. and the other two marked MI-6, among a larger stash of documents in Arabic.

It was impossible to verify their authenticity, and none of them were written on letterhead. But the binders included some documents that made specific reference to the C.I.A., and their details seem consistent with what is known about the transfer of terrorism suspects abroad for interrogation and with other agency practices.

And although the scope of prisoner transfers to Libya has not been made public, news media reports have sometimes mentioned it as one country that the United States used as part of its much criticized rendition program for terrorism suspects.

A C.I.A. spokeswoman, Jennifer Youngblood, declined to comment on Friday on the documents. But she added: “It can’t come as a surprise that the Central Intelligence Agency works with foreign governments to help protect our country from terrorism and other deadly threats.”

The British Foreign Office said, “It is the longstanding policy of the government not to comment on intelligence matters.”

While most of the renditions referred to in the documents appear to have been C.I.A. operations, at least one was claimed to have been carried out by MI-6.

“The rendition program was all about handing over these significant figures related to Al Qaeda so they could torture them and get the information they wanted,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, who studied the documents in the intelligence headquarters in downtown Tripoli.

The documents cover 2002 to 2007, with many of them concentrated in late 2003 and 2004, when Moussa Koussa was head of the External Security Organization. (Mr. Koussa was most recently Libya’s foreign minister.)

The speech that appears to have been drafted for Colonel Qaddafi was found in the C.I.A. folder and appears to have been sent just before Christmas in 2003. The one-page speech seems intended to depict the Libyan dictator in a positive light. It concluded, using the revolutionary name for the Libyan government: “At a time when the world is celebrating the birth of Jesus, and as a token of our contributions towards a world full of peace, security, stability and compassion, the Great Jamhariya presents its honest call for a W.M.D.-free zone in the Middle East,” referring to weapons of mass destruction.

The flurry of communications about renditions are dated after Libya’s renouncement of its weapons program. In several of the cases, the documents explicitly talked about having a friendly country arrest a suspect, and then suggested aircraft would be sent to pick the suspect up and deliver him to the Libyans for questioning. One document included a list of 89 questions for the Libyans to ask a suspect.

While some of the documents warned Libyan authorities to respect such detainees’ human rights, the C.I.A. nonetheless turned them over for interrogation to a Libyan service with a well-known history of brutality.

One document in the C.I.A. binder said operatives were “in a position to deliver Shaykh Musa to your physical custody, similar to what we have done with other senior L.I.F.G. members in the recent past.” The reference was to the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which was dedicated to the overthrow of Colonel Qaddafi, and which American officials believed had ties to Al Qaeda.

When Libyans asked to be sent Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq, another member of the group, a case officer wrote back on March 4, 2004, that “we are committed to developing this relationship for the benefit of both our services,” and promised to do their best to locate him.

Two days later, an officer faxed the Libyans to say that Mr. Sadiq and his pregnant wife were planning to fly into Malaysia, and the authorities there agreed to put them on a British Airways flight to London that would stop in Bangkok. “We are planning to take control of the pair in Bangkok and place them on our aircraft for a flight to your country,” the case officer wrote.

Mr. Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch said he had learned from the documents that Sadiq was a nom de guerre for Abdel Hakim Belhaj, who is now a military leader for the rebels.

In an interview on Wednesday, Mr. Belhaj gave a detailed description of his incarceration that matched many of those in the documents. He also said that when he was held in Bangkok he was tortured by two people from the C.I.A.

On one occasion, the Libyans tried to send their own plane to extradite a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, Abu Munthir, and his wife and children, who were being held in Hong Kong because of passport irregularities.

The Libyan aircraft, however, was turned back, apparently because Hong Kong authorities were reluctant to let Libyan planes land. In a document labeled “Secret/ U.S. Only/ Except Libya,” the Libyans were advised to charter an aircraft from a third country. “If payment of a charter aircraft is an issue, our service would be willing to assist financially,” the document said.

While questioning alleged terror group members who plainly had value to Western intelligence, the cooperation went beyond that. In one case, for example, the Libyans asked operatives to trace a phone number for them, and a document that was in the MI-6 binder replied that it belonged to the Arab News Network in London. It is unclear why the Libyans sought who the phone number belonged to.

The document also suggested signs of agency rivalries for the Libyans’ affections. In the MI-6 binder, a document boasted of having turned over someone named Abu Abd Alla to the Libyans. “This was the least we could do for you to demonstrate the remarkable relationship we have built over recent years,” an unsigned fax in 2004 said. “Amusingly, we got a request from the Americans to channel requests for information from Abu Abd through the Americans. I have no intention of doing any such thing.”

Scott Shane contributed reporting from Washington.

Qaddafi was a CIA asset

Gaddafi was a CIA asset

By Juan Cole

Posted on 09/03/2011


Human Rights Watch found documents in Libya after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi that it passed on to the Wall Street Journal, which is analyzing them. The WSJ reported today that the documents show that Qaddafi developed so warm a relationship with George W. Bush that Bush sent people he had kidnapped (“rendition”) to Libya to be “questioned” by Libya’s goons, and almost certainly to be tortured. The formal paperwork asked Libya to observe human rights, but Bush’s office also sent over a list of specific questions it wanted the Libyan interrogators to ask. Qaddafi also gave permission to the CIA from 2004 to establish a formal presence in the country.

Qaddafi had been on the outs with the West for decades, but was rehabilitated once he gave up his ‘weapons of mass destruction’ programs (Qaddafi had no unconventional weapons, and no obvious ability to develop them, so his turning over to Bush of a few rotting diagrams that had been buried was hardly a big deal.

I have been going blue in the face pointing out that Muammar Qaddafi is not a progressive person, and that in fact his regime was in its last decades a helpmeet to the international status quo powers.

Now it turns out that Qaddafi was hand in glove with Bush regarding “interrogation” of the prisoners sent him from Washington.

Alexander Cockburn’s outfit has been trying to smear me by suggesting that I had some sort of relationship with the CIA, when all I ever did was give talks in Washington at think tanks to which analysts came to listen; when you speak to the public you speak to all kinds of people. I never was a direct consultant and never had a contract or employment with the agency itself. I spoke to a wide range of USG personnel in those talks in Washington in the Bush years, including the State Department, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and even local police officers, and the intelligence analysts were just part of the audience.

In fact, we now know that the Bush administration was upset that I was given a hearing in Washington and was influential with the analysts, and asked the CIA to spy on me and attempt to destroy my reputation.

So how delicious is it that those who supported Qaddafi, or opposed practical steps to keep him from slaughtering the protest movement (such as A. Cockburn and his hatchet man John Walsh), were de facto allies of the CIA themselves– and not just allies of the analysts, who try to understand the intelligence, but allies of the guys doing “rendition,” i.e. kidnapping suspects off the street and having them “interrogated.”

What did Libya do for the CIA?


September 3, 2011

Posted by Amy Davidson

How many more ways can evidence of America’s rendition and torture practices come to light? Earlier this week, it was thanks to a dispute over who would pay for muffins, airphone calls, and a plane to fly prisoners to secret prisons. Now, it’s with papers in a binder marked “C.I.A.” found in one of Qaddafi’s offices in Tripoli. (Jon Lee Anderson is there for The New Yorker.) What next—an Eastern European military officer’s divorce trial, an election campaign in Asia, an iPhone prototype left in a bar? (That’s another story.) A program that involved hiding people from our country’s laws and courts, and outsourcing their interrogation to willing torturers—including, according to the documents, Qaddafi—left traces scattered around the world, waiting to be stumbled upon. A way they haven’t been cataloged, though, is the way they should have been: through a true reckoning by our own government. Instead, President Obama decided, in effect, that what was done was done. But it isn’t.

The “C.I.A.” binder was accompanied by two marked “MI6,” and the office they were in belonged to a man the Times described as “Libya’s former spymaster.” The paper also noted that, in the circumstances, their authenticity was hard to verify. (The C.I.A.’s response was not exactly a denial: “It can’t come as a surprise that the Central Intelligence Agency works with foreign governments to help protect our country from terrorism and other deadly threats.”) Peter Bouckaert, the emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, sat down and read through the binders. There were talking points for Qaddafi, logistical details for flights, and what seems to have been the bartering of Qaddafi’s opponents, some of whom had ties to Islamist groups, for his cooperation. One of them is now a rebel leader.

All in all, there were “thousands of pieces of correspondence from US and UK officials,” according to the BBC, which then quoted Bouckaert:

It wasn’t just abducting suspected Islamic militants and handing them over to the Libyan intelligence…The CIA also sent the questions they wanted Libyan intelligence to ask and, from the files, it’s very clear they were present in some of the interrogations themselves.

Its dealings in Libya are not the C.I.A.’s only problem; nor is the C.I.A. the only problem. The Washington Post has two new pieces in its “Top Secret America” series that one should read. The first, by Julie Tate and Greg Miller, is on the C.I.A.’s shift away from learning things and toward killing people considered dangerous (and who makes that call?), with analysts becoming “targeters.” The other, by Dana Priest and William Arkin, is about the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, which has held some thousand prisoners “in jails that it alone controls in Iraq and Afghanistan.” (“We’re the dark matter. We’re the force that orders the universe but can’t be seen,” a SEAL told the Post.) The “C.I.A.” binder in Tripoli included “a list of 89 questions for the Libyans to ask a suspect,” the Times said. We should have at least that many—many more—for our own government.